Fear of Trembling

Disaster of the Fray!

Slate’s newest feature, “The Survivalist” by David Shenk asks its readers to soberly contemplate seriously frightening scenarios. The Survivalist Fray has its elements of one-upmanship, such as RoyJaruk-18’s contemplation of an Antarctic cruise wreck. But the majority of posts amplify Shenk’s advice with more cheap and common-sense steps citizens can take to forestall catastrophe in the face of disaster.

If the earth starts shaking, MacAdvisor takes issue with the advice to shelter under a doorway:

Not to be mean or contrarian, but I think Mr. Shenk’s advice to get in a doorframe is most certainly wrong. The American Red Cross “has not recommended use of a doorway for earthquake protection for more than a decade. The problem is that many doorways are not built into the structural integrity of a building, and may not offer protection. Also, simply put, doorways are not suitable for more than one person at a time.”

portorchardkid offers the debatable advice to stock up on butane.

Are you worried about your own preparedness for disaster? You could try taking Clown_Nose’s simple test:

Consider the last time you experienced a power failure in your home, which we have all experienced. Did you have to stumble around looking for flashlights? Did they work if you found them? Did you have a method to prepare food? Did you have canned food to last a few days? Did you have a system for family members to contact each other? Did you do anything different when the power came back?

In a large disaster, do you have the training and supplies to help your family members if they are injured and need first aid? Are you part of an organization that will help organize the response, or are you expecting others to help you?

If that’s too complicated, you still might try Sarvis’ disaster prep quiz: the “who’s a bigger asshole” test.

Who’s the bigger asshole? The guy who spends a couple of hours and $50 bucks assembling a “go bag” plus maybe a little continuity of life planning that he’ll likely never use, or the guy who wanders aimlessly around town after a hurricane with his hungry kids in tow wandering what the hell to do with a stalled car and a visa card no one will take.

Rejecting the individualistic focus of the articles, ironocracy_now argues that disaster prep should be a collective endeavor:

Rather than posting links to the latest fashion accessories that may save your life assuming you have them with you and functional at the moment danger strikes, how about a frank discussion of the changes in mindset that will truly make us safer? How about a rundown of sustainable practices and methods of preparedness including how long items are useful for, how to accomplish secure storage, etc.?

Rising to the challenge, BenK offers a great suggestion – encouraging widespread EMT training as a basic civic duty.

Several readers raise arguments against preparing at all. Degsme thinks a little sensible paranoia spits on the notion of grace. TJA describes how too much common sense can ruin your chances of getting laid. According to NickD, survival depends more on the sensible use of ordinary resources, like a simple bicycle, than the acquisition of dedicated gear.

Ultimately, TheMaxFischerPlayers points out the best hope for educating the public – disaster prep aerobic videos (video link with sound).

Quit holding out on us. Share your own secret plan for withstanding the apocalypse in the Survivalist Fray. GA6:15pm PDT

Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006

From the Television desk, Troy Patterson’s assessment of Katie Couric’s debut as anchor of the CBS Evening Newshour attracted a fraction of the approximately 13.6 million viewers who watched her maiden broadcast on Tuesday night.

Talking as a disappointed Couric fan, Pseudo_l offers harsh words:

It was horrible. Every Networkian tirade you could think of about the death of television would be appropriate… And every one is trying to be genteel about not referring to Katie’s appearance–but she looked eerily Stepford wifey–she’s been given serious news hair and make up and botoxed to the hilt (I’d even venture for some plastic surgery over the summer). Why can’t she have her wrinkles just like the boys?

Stella77 finds Patterson’s review offensive on feminist grounds:

Had she been a man, would we really have had to read about “her first night sitting behind (and perching beside, and sitting leggily in front of) the anchor desk…”? Would there be that vague (or perhaps not so vague) pedantic tone when describing the first story of the night as “a report that was both hefty and stylish—a fair bit of context,… the steady insinuation of the glamorous correspondent’s sense of peril.”

Throughout Mr. Patterson’s story, I sensed a level of condescension that I hoped would be absent in this day and age when describing the work (however groundbreaking) of a woman.

I did not watch yesterday’s broadcast. I don’t understand what the big deal is about her hosting the evening news. What I did see today though is a sad example of the continuing uphill climb women face in the attitudes of some men.

But for Baba, if some fail to take Couric seriously, it’s because  she undermines herself by playing up her own girlishness:

it seems to me that the problem isn’t that she’s a woman, it’s that she acts like a girl. One who is used to getting her way by being cute. Daddy’s little girl, perhaps. Or a poplular highschool cheerleader.

Even when she’s being dignified, it feels like an act.

The position requires maturity, someone who feels like a woman rather than a girl putting on an act.

Couric’s style also proves bothersome to milbank, who feels viewers would be better served if “reporters…removed their personal melodrama and just stuck to reporting the story.”

Then there are those who question the significance of the first female anchor as a cultural milestone. In an age of workaholics, asksrundeep, “Who gets home from work in time to watch the 6 o’clock news? I haven’t seen the evening news in 18 years unless I was sick or home with someone sick.” And with the proliferation of other forms of news media, notessempre, “It would have been important in the pre-cable days, it hardly matters now.”

Our fixation on the messenger rather than the message brings criticism from shadowplayer:

Why do we care who delivers the news of the day? It’s not as though a single one of them had anything to do with the events they describe, or any influence over the fact that those events occured…Katie Couric did not write her stories. Some team of news writers culled the most interesting bits of flotsam from the current events pond and packaged them up with a nice bow. So what?

Then again, her supposed spin would seem to matter a great deal to the conservative Media Research Center, which documents incidences of Couric’s journalistic “liberal bias” throughout her career. Check out the dirt here. AC2:41pm PDT

Monday, Sept. 4, 2006

In his Dispatch from Minnesota, Ben Crair reported on the annual state fair. Many Fraysters wrote in to wax nostalgic on this most wholesome of American traditions. Anse recalls  “the smell of cotton candy, manure, stale beer from the biergarten, barbecue and sawdust … ” To Manza, a young curmudgeon, the tradition represents “one of the last, best places on earth where for 12 days, we can regain a little of the innocence of years ago, and everyone can be a kid again.” topazz describes the Allentown state fair, then and now:

When I was growing up, Allentown hosted the biggest fair in the tri-state area every August. During the fair’s “run”, the excitement was palpable; businesses would close early all week, major stars (Tom Jones! Diana Ross & the Supremes! etc) all kinds of celebrities with the fair’s headlining acts could be spotted at local haunts like the Dairy Queen or Hess’s Department Store. The food was one of the main reasons to go; always exotic, delicious and plentiful, something for everyone’s taste, and the game stands guaranteed you’d go home loaded down with huge plush stuffed animals.

The carnies traveling with the fair lived in small trailers that were parked all along the perimeter of the fairgrounds, creating a ringside neighborhood unto themselves. I remember watching the mostly unattended children of the carnies playing outside these trailers, and envying what seemed to be a thrilling life to my then 10 year old mind.

Allentown still has a fair every year but its a markedly different one nowadays. The 9 day run has been shortened to Labor Day weekend, and the proliferation of eating stands are almost all local offshoots of area restaurants here. The freaky sideshows have disappeared, and overall it seems to have become more of a rallying place for local politicians than anything else. My kids have season passes to a local wildwater kingdom, so they hardly give the fair a second glance.
Kind of sad, when something that was once so huge fades away into the sunset.

Dispatches out of New Orleans, from Josh Levin (click here) and Blake Bailey (click here), brought reports of a very different American summer in the Dispatches Fray. David Naccari, aka Chimnysweep, describes his experience performing “Katrinalaya” for national and New Orleanian audiences:

I and two other evacuees wrote “Katrinalaya” while we were refugees in Lufkin, Texas. The people of this small east Texas town were so gracious and hospitable that we felt moved to write this song of thanks. The images that we viewed on TV, and the host of recovery workers that we found when we returned home, told us that there were many more people who deserved our deep felt appreciation for their rescue and recovery of New Orleans.

Adding to all of that, “Katrinalaya” is a happy, positive song, with the ability to lift spirits above the grieving morosity of hurricane recovery through the healing power of humor. I saw that power demonstrated time and time again in the eyes and words of my audiences as I sang the song to thousands of passersby and event participants in post-Katrina New Orleans.

But many readers are angry, one year after the devastation of the storm, because so many victims have yet to rebuild their lives. joejeri92 writes, “I am so sick and tired of all the whining the folks in New Orleans are doing about the lack of help they have received after Katrina hit. What are they doing for themselves, why did they not leave when told to evacuate, and why is everyone looking to place blame for an act of God?”

NortinMiss asks aloud “Why have all of the newsreports on the anniversary been so negative and have only settled on the “You owe me!” class? Why haven’t there been reports on people [who haven’t] sat back waiting for the government to come help?” Her subsequent stories of hurricane recovery show an ideally “self-reliant” American with “friends who live outside of Louisiana [who] took up a collection to buy him a new guitar” or “children [who] asked for help on the internet.” Her stories call to mind Blake Bailey’s lucky savior who offered his displaced family a house, or Josh Levin’s account of 250 volunteers helping Miss Antoinette K-Doe to rebuild and reopen her business.

Much less sympathy is spared for those whom RandyK533 brutally describes as “the trash that New Orleans so kindly sent.” Readers complain that New Orleans is an unforgivable site or that its citizens deserve what they got. Perhaps jenfen56 captures the zeitgeist best, with her harrowing tale of losing nothing at the hands of black racism:

I have always believed that all people are equal and I do see that some people need a leg up. But, EVERYTHING that ever happens in a black community is because of the evil white man and I being a white woman truly resent it.

Depressing as this may be, far from the hatred and animosity flowing through the Internet, barracks9 reminds us that Americans are standing shoulder-to-shoulder to rebuild our devastated city:

For those of us who are back in New Orleans, life isn’t framed neatly by the “anniversary”. We still have to navigate, literally and figuratively, through a wounded city–and go about our days as humans, not as statistics, not as victims, not as whiners. Last night, I was fortunate to attend the interfaith service at St. Louis Cathedral and was taken with the overwhelming sense that came out of it–there is hope, there is the chance to turn horrific tragedy into a great opportunity for change and restoration.

But, we’re not foolish enough to believe that anyone is going to do it for us. There’s no waiting for the government to “fix” the city. It will never be like it was…and we can live with that. If you don’t want to help us rebuild, don’t. Just shut up and let us do what we need to without being verbally knocked down all the time.

It is up to every single person to get out there and be part of it. To paraphrase the Bishop who delivered one of the messages last night, “We may not have suffered equally, but we all suffered together.” And together we will rebuild as best we can, one person, one street, one neighborhood at a time. That will be a city I can be proud of once again. The city that is my home.

GA1:55am PDT

Thursday, Aug. 31, 2006

TV commercials, more so than any other object of media criticism here at Slate, seem to become emotionally charged occasions for reader self-reflection and projection. Seth Stevenson’s review of Ford’s new spot for its SUV featuring a divorced family is no exception.

Perhaps because we assume that commercials represent prevailing social norms and mirror the demographics of their viewing public, the impulse is to judge ourselves against the subjects and scenarios depicted in them. (In a jab to fellow fraysters, 2divorceskid attacks exactly this impulse.)

While there were those who criticize Ford for treading down a slippery moral slope (“What’s next? A minivan for polygamists?” asksoman1), most readers applaud a company willing to acknowledge the statistical and social realities of divorce—and more importantly, provide a role model for divorced couples who engage with one another in a civil manner, as jmsr attests:

Ford did a great job showing people that divorcees can get along. I’m a happily remarried women and my husband and I have a great relationship with my ex. He visits, we socialize and are always courteous to his feelings about not being around the the kids on regular basis. He is a great Dad, we just didn’t work as a romantic couple but do as friends - the great Dad is what I recognize him for not the ex husband. If more ex spouses would attempt a friendship the world, and our kids, would be MUCH happier!!!!

JBC013 goes further in her optimism, dubbing the ad “30 seconds of hopefulness“:

I love this ad. First, it’s far more representative of modern families than just about any other ad on TV. It took forever for advertisers to use non-white models, and it took even longer for them to use mixed-race couples. VW ads presented gay couples, and now Ford is using one example of a modern, nuclear family - and it does it in a positive, uplifting way. Just about every other media channel uses the absolute most explicit, exploitative images available because they are sensational. I think the Ford ad builds brand equity because it’s memorable, and you remember Ford, if not the model. It leaves the viewer with a sense of hopefulness, whether they identify personally with the story or know someone who would. Besides, who cares where dad slept? The kids are just glad he was along for the ride.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mr_Clean finds the underlying social message far from positive or uplifting:

Having spent thousands of dollars and years dealing with the courts and legal system simply to get my right to spend time with my children recognized and upheld, I am sick to death of what seems to be the prevailing attitude that fathers are good for nothing more than mailing a monthly check, and actually spending time with his children is a secondary (if not tertiary) consideration that should be left completely to the prevailing attitude of the mother. Perhaps Ford should have spent a little more time considering how it might alienate single fathers who are tired of being treated like second-class citizens in the lives of their own children before coming out with this ridiculous “bold moves” commercial. For continuing to perpetrate this ridiculous stereotype, I will certainly never purchase a Ford product again.

In Luchese’s estimation, Ford’s ad makes palpable a sense of social alienation more than it offers up the hope of post-divorce civility:

The commercial is for a form of transportation not a venue for negotiating the conundrum of father absence. Pursuing both in the same context is a bit nauseating if not revolting. I view that SUV as more of a reason for divorce rather than some conciliator. It consumes too much fuel, has the aura of a combat vehicle and distances those who are occupants. Hence our oil dependence, the triumph of aggression as our dominant means of social discourse and the social isolation that now prevents successful interpersonal relationships. We have become much better at fighting wars, fighting each other and retreating into our boxes than establishing successful marriages or families. That is the real theme of the commercial.

revrick highlights the symbolic role of SUV as protector and father substitute:

While SUVs, with many of their names meant to evoke the image of the rugged cowboy, have appealed to men as a way to play out their fantasies of being that cowboy, they have also appealed even more to women as the cowboy/protector they long for. SUVs are mobile guardians against the dangers of a hostile world (never mind the tremendous amount of projection going on here, since research indicates that SUV owners tend to be more hostile than average). This mom, now without her husband, has an SUV to replace him in the role of protector. The message to divorced moms is that this SUV will not fail you like your ex did.

Nor will the Ad Report Card Fray fail to arouse further debate on this matter. Click here to find additional posts. AC4:30pm EDT

Friday, Aug. 25, 2006

Amanda Schaffer’s analysis weighing the risks and benefits of stomach stapling for teenagers drew a strong reaction from readers.

ponderthis declares herself fed up with the media’s obsession over fat and fat people:

Everyday we, as consumers, are bombarded with articles, television broadcasts and radio spots, talking about how fat we are and what we need to do - better yet, buy - to avoid the myriad dangers that are associated with being overweight. We constantly hear “buy this food because it helps to reduce cholesterol” or “get this procedure because it will improve your health.” This one is my favorite - exercise more!

kaydia attacks the underlying assumption of the debate:

The writer seems to imply that being heavy is a curse that must be overcome no matter what the cost. One does not have to be thin to be healty. You have to love and accept yourself for who you are despite what oher people may think of you.

Luchese responds:

Actually shame is probably at the heart of most over eating. The problem is weight does have impact on chronic disease, early disability and premature death. But I agree that surgery is a cruel and somewhat inhuman approach with teenagers. Non of the resources invested in this procedure are matched by preventive health care. That is the true tragedy.                       

In another instance of pathologizing fat people, livestephen thinks the procedure will be ineffective unless more fundamental psychological “dysfunction” is addressed:

These teens are suffering and making their symptoms disappear with stomach stapling just leaves them mutalated but still carrying the weight of the dysfunction that causes countless people to seek comfort and sedation in food.

In this testimonial, nicolet describes the life-changing consequence of her own gastric bypass surgery:

I was just 16 when I had the surgery. I was 5 foot even and topped the scales at 220. I don’t regret one bit of the surgery. It gave me a whole new life that I would have never known if it was not for the surgery. Yes you do have to take medication for the rest of your life and you do “dump” and it does make you very sick. But in the end it is all worth it. Many teens don’t understand how much your life changes. There are only certain things you can eat. Sugars for one are not allowed. You don’t eat but only a few bits of something so buffets are gone. I am one who can’t have dairy products. I have to say my food freedom is gone but my freedom on life I finnaly discovered!!!

That said, Eigenvector reacts with shock at the prospect of such a radical solution to child obesity. MSMcGahhey also thinks it too extreme.

Chime in over at the Medical Examiner. AC 7:48pm

Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006

John Kinkaid’s article, “Little Miss Sunshine,” has stirred up a heated debate in the Culturebox Fray. Does the media storm surrounding the murder of JonBenet Ramsey reveal something sinister about American culture, and about us as media consumers?

Many readers reject the central premise of Kincaid’s argument—that “we” have any interest in the Ramsey murder at all. Valiantly overcoming their disinterest in the case long enough to read the article, formulate a response, and post it on the Fray, such readers profess helplessness in the face of saturation Ramsey coverage. SeanD has a more empathetic take:

What a strange position Kincaid took, accusing us all of vicarious pedophilia! It seems he’s fallen into a trap very familiar to those of us who work with criminal offenders: If you spend all day around people who have done terrible things, you start to think that the world is a terrible place full of terrible people.

It sounds like Mr. Kincaid needs to get out of the office more and chat with a few of us NON-pedophiles. You know, the overwhelming majority of the population, who feel absolutely nothing sexual for Jonbenet or any other inappropriately-dressed child, and can’t comprehend why anyone would. [… Otherwise], he’ll simply end up writing more articles like this one, which undermine themselves by taking on the very sensational and breathless tone that he claims to be condemning.

CaLawyer doesn’t deny an interest in the case but resents the charge that it’s an “obsession.”

Like many people, I have an interest in this unsolved crime, and like most people, I am no more “obsessed” with this story than I am “obsessed” with other news stories. Methinks writers like Kincaid doth protest too much when he paints a picture of us who are interested in this case as weirdoes who are “obsessed” with the murder of a six-year-old beauty queen. These finger-pointers tip their hand when they use words like “titillating” to describe this horrific case. Like most people, I find nothing titillating about the death of a six year old girl. Maybe Kincaid and his ilk do, and they are projecting their own prurient reasons for their fascination with this case onto us.

As a law student himself, Freditor_G appreciates the lawyerly touch of CaLawyer’s factor test explaining the story’s appeal.

Not all readers are so quick to refuse responsibility for the eroticization of children. adept42 surmises that a secret longing for children is far more widespread than we may wish to believe:

Think back to your own adolescence. I’ll bet that most of you will be able to remember developing an erotic interest in the opposite sex years before you were ready or able to act on that impulse. I don’t think anyone would consider it strange or unhealthy for a child to be attracted to someone their own age.

Of course you’ve moved on but youthful desires never completely die. […] Pedophilia isn’t some kind of ultimate evil -its ultimate childishness. Its adults trying to make themselves happy with the same dreams they’ve had since they were kids. Its sad and pathetic more than anything else. Now of course a pedophile’s crimes are awful and they deserve to be punished. But demonizing them and claiming we have absolutely never felt anything anywhere close to what they feel is a dangerous lie.

theotherme goes even further, arguing that sexual gratification is a unitary urge:

Imagine a spectrum titled “satisfying sexual urges via objects external to us.” At both ends of the scale there are socially unacceptable objects. Let’s say as you move to the left on the scale you start seeing inanimate objects, such as the crease on that old couch in the basement of a fraternity house. […] Farther to the right, you start seeing animals, the mentally ill or undeveloped, dead people all the time, and children. In the broad middle of the range we find socially acceptable sexual activity – sex with consenting adult partners pretty much captures it. […]

Your very denial of any intention to have sex with children is proof positive that the power of your repressive reflex, far from being the guarantee of your celibacy with regard to children, is rather the precondition of their eroticization: the strength and energy of the “never with children” is a suspect defense mechanism. Of course, we would all love to have sex with kids. They’re cute. They have nice skin. They smile winningly. In general, all those creatures who are cute, with nice skin, and who smile winningly (such as pumpkins, pigs named Babe – we all know the list) act as excellent objects for discharging sexual energy. […]

The mere fact that there’s a *basis* for such-and-such behavior in humans does not lead to the conclusion that it’s okay to do it, nor that the true origin of the behavior is in us. Rather, since the overwhelming majority do not use either pumpkins or children for the release of sexual energy – despite the presence of unexplored tendencies in these directions – we need to look *elsewhere* for the causal agent producing this behavior in a small subset of the population.

A former student of Kincaid’s, hamlineprof struggles to bring the discussion back on topic:

Kincaid deplores the mistreatment of children in this culture, hell the mistreatment of every- and anyone. But, he argues, in a culture which claims to idealize the innocence of children, and raises a ruckus over every perceived threat to such innocents (from the media to strange abductors to you-name-it), why is there such *fascination* with the most extreme forms of mistreatment? Or, if we’re so concerned with the mistreated, why aren’t there blitzes of media coverage around the everyday abuses of children in poverty–why do we focus on the rarest of rare, and ignore the actual problems facing those we seek to protect? […] On the one hand we ostensibly want to separate children from pain and abuse and sexuality and various other horrors. On the other hand, we ignore the most widespread and dangerous of such horrors.

MsZilla ventures an explanation for why that is so:

Because stranger danger can be helped. Whereas the other sort of thing really can’t be. Because they don’t have a simple pat answer to the actual problem, they’ll give you a wrong but simple and pat answer to a tiny speck of it and hope that convinces you they have a good reason they have their head that far up their you-guessed-it. That’s why they like to focus on it.

The training that is given in school, by child protection advocates and is recommended for parents can be effective when it comes to dealing with strangers. But it’s very different when the person has the authority and influence on the child and the time with them to slowly get around that training. And a very small percentage of these crimes are committed by strangers. […]

No amount of the training or practicing saying “No!” or any of the rest of it is terribly effective against an intelligent predator that is known to the child. And that is an absurdly large percentage of the cases. […]

I was taught the same things when I was growing up. I practiced saying “No!” and did the little games with the teachers and my Mom. We read the coloring books and went through them and we “talked about it”. I agonized to myself every time the subject came up, but I never told. I said the right things so my mother wouldn’t worry. I didn’t hate him. He was my stepfather. He was the father of my brothers and sisters. He was family. I loved him and I didn’t want him to get in trouble. […]

Do you honestly think your daughters would use those self-defense tactics on you? Say your four-year-old doesn’t want to take off the pants she just tromped through a mud-puddle in because they’re here favorites and she wants to wear them anyways. You’re not gonna let her do that because she’ll get mud everywhere and you don’t have time to deal with the fuss because you have to go pick your wife up at the airport. So you deal with the situation by taking them off her. She gets scared. Do you in your heart of hearts think she’d fight you dirty enough to stop you? Do you think it’s physically possible?

If the training you’re talking about is to be at all effective, she would have to. It’s all supposed to go off what makes them feel uncomfortable. So her fear because you look all angry and scary is supposed to trigger it. And changing her pants does involve getting your hands somewhere near a danger zone, and that’s also supposed to do it. But you’re her father. Do you think a few platitudes spouted at her once a year at school and a few pious affirmations by you that you mean she should do this even to you have a chance against that? Use your head.

Join the discussion in the  Culturebox Fray. GA 11:25pm PDT

Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006

George W. Bush’s reading of Albert Camus’ L’Étranger (The Stranger), combined with Sen. George Allen’s public utterance of an apparently French-derived racial slur, represents the rare infusion of francophilia into American politics (by two members of the conservative establishment, no less). A far cry from the days of Freedom Fries, indeed.

TJA speculates that mention of this novel in Talladega Nights, the Will Ferrell NASCAR comedy, might have inspired W.’s choice.

As a matter of diplomacy, Utek1 declares it was “probably unwise for the president to be seen reading a book about a soulless murderer of Arabs”:

With Iraq in chaos, the ceasefire in Lebanon hanging by a thread, and the US making noises about invading Iran, the last thing Bush should be doing is throwing gasoline on the fire. But once an oil man, always an oil man.

Fortunately, the easiest way for Bush to make amends is to continue onto Camus’ next novel, The Plague. Here, the hero isn’t a murderer, but a doctor battling an epidemic of bubonic plague in the Algerian town of Oran. Despite the pestilence afflicting all those around him, the doctor continues to do his small part to relieve their suffering. The image of Bush reading about a Western caregiver providing comfort to Muslims during a bleak moment in their history would be a lot better PR for Bush than to be seen getting tips on how to murder Arabs without remorse.

Contrary to Dickerson, bhardin offers an alternative theory about the quintessential symbolism shared between Meursault (the protagonist in The Stranger) and G.W.:

The most interesting aspect of the novel is why Mersault is put to death. It isn’t because he killed Arabs, which was rarely met with the death penalty. Rather it was his lack of compassion and explanation of his motives to the demanding public. Ultimately he was killed because he showed no sadness for the death of his mother. The public viewed him as inhuman. Bush is persecuted like Mersault not because he is a “remorseless killer of Arabs”, but because he doesn’t engage the public to explain himself. Bill Clinton also killed Arabs (e.g. bombing a “chemical weapons” plant/hospital in the Sudan) during his last year in office. However, he was an excellent communicator of emotions- he felt my pain. Of course, Bill would find more literary parallels with Willy Loman than Mersault.

Mersault is perhaps one of the most complex characters in modern literature, but to the mob that shouted for his death he would have been viewed as a Bush-like moron. Maybe, behind Bush’s façade is a deeper, stoic intellectual who connects with a character publicly persecuted for his taciturn nature.

Soltasto, for one, applauds W.’s expansion of his intellectual horizons:

Regardless of his intentions, it will bring sorely needed new ideas to the man’s head. I’m no Bush fan, but it is always important to defend any person’s right to seek new information and evolve. Everything that penetrates his consciousness is going to affect his decisions in the future. For the next two years those decisions will affect everyone on Earth. Any actions this man takes toward expanding his tiny box of ideas should be applauded.

Thanks to astrotdog for tracking down the possible etymology of macaca:

Macaca ?= Makak = macaque = a french/belgium/dutch epithet for a Arab or black North African; derived from macaque, the old world monkey, once common in North Africa.

Further evidence of this derivation: Allen speaks French and his mother is of Tunisian origin, according to Clown_Nose.

As for Allen, RedStateImpressions criticizes Dickerson’s “superficiality” as a journalist and for getting

the relation between Allen’s racial attitudes and his “boobery” wrong. First, Allen isn’t “racially insensitive”; he’s a racist. Allen’s as much a racist as Mel Gibson is an anti-semite. The “macaca” comment comes on top of the Confederate flag fascination, the picture of a noose hanging from a tree, and the pro-Confederate proclamations Allen made while governor. We should all be honest enough to take the broad hints that Allen’s been giving us.

Dickerson also writes as though being a racist and being a boob are different things. This is not the case with Allen. The “macaca” comment was a pretty standard boob approach to racism. Instead of calling the opposition photographer Sidarth by one of the standard racial epithets for dark-skinned people, Sen. Allen thought that he would use a fancy French term for blacks that no one would recognize. This is almost precisely what it means to be a boob, to think that you’re the smartest person in the room even while you’re making an idiot of yourself. Sen. Allen thought he was demonstrating his racial superiority to the irritating guy, thought he was entertaining his all-white audience, and thought he was scoring points while he was NOT noticing that Sidarth was holding a camera in his hand and recording the whole blundering soliloguy. What a racist boob!

As little respect as I have for George Bush, it wasn’t fair for Dickerson to equate Allen with the President. Whatever his failures as president and “goofy, amiable, towel-snapping qualities,” Pres. Bush has too much “message discipline” to be caught making that kind of racist comment on camera even if he feels that way in private (and I don’t think he does). Perhaps the worst thing you can say about George Allen is that he is considerably more of a boob than George Bush.

Not that such a thing would stop the Republicans from nominating him.

A profusion of additional commentary can be found in Politics. AC5:53pm PDT